Columbia MSOR some truth about the Columbia MSOR

doug reich

Some guy
FinanceGuy: Thanks for your informative post. It's great to get this kind of information from someone first-hand.

Your appraisal of the OR program is a very limited endorsement, at least as far as MFE goes. That is, MFE students get picked first by the school and by the employers. As a result, you have to go the extra mile just to be on level ground by beefing up your resume. Furthermore, the school appears to even be trying to push OR students out of MFE courses with demanding prerequisites!

So for someone looking to get into quant finance, is the OR program a good choice? Put another way, if you can get into the MFE program, is there any reason to go to the OR program? (provided you want to go into quant finance.)

As a side note, I met a guy on an interview who was graduating from the OR program last year. He was a little disappointed because he was more interested in industrial applications of OR, but having gone to Columbia, all of the employers were looking for finance types. As has been said elsewhere on these boards, you will get the most employment attention from companies near the school; NY is very finance-oriented, so that's what he had to look forward to.
 

Prateek Bhatia

New Member
FinanceGuy: Thanks for your informative post. It's great to get this kind of information from someone first-hand.
.......So for someone looking to get into quant finance, is the OR program a good choice? Put another way, if you can get into the MFE program, is there any reason to go to the OR program? (provided you want to go into quant finance.)

As a side note, I met a guy on an interview who was graduating from the OR program last year. He was a little disappointed because he was more interested in industrial applications of OR, but having gone to Columbia, all of the employers were looking for finance types. As has been said elsewhere on these boards, you will get the most employment attention from companies near the school; NY is very finance-oriented, so that's what he had to look forward to.
I am also in the OR program and will be starting this fall. What I personally feel is that if you haven't worked before (let alone worked in finance before), the OR program is a decent choice purely because of the flexibility. It will allow you to explore many areas and specialize in the field you like - or may be not specialize at all. Speaking to the students here, I feel that a lot of them are planning to take business school courses as much as possible, which are not really quantitative. But they are excellent courses and the B-school here is tremendously reputed.

May be explaining my line of thinking may make my point clearer. I want a quantitative and programming related career. Quant finance is one area I can do this but what do I really know about quant finance? I have tried to learn about quant finance as much as possible from this forum, read some books, but still feel that without experiencing work in the industry first hand I don't know enough. Considering this I felt it was better for me to go for the OR program which is also a quantitative discipline, rather than go to one of the many 2nd teir FE programs. Here I can get a chance to learn more. I'll be taking the intro to FE course this sem which is supposed to be excellent. I can learn more and then decide where I want to channel my studies towards. I want to do this coz I don't think just doing an FE degree from somewhere will make me a quant.

Having said all this, many people from the OR program have got quantitative jobs in the past. As stated before by yuriy many jobs require a quantitative degree now necessarily a quant finance or an FE degre. Many from here also take up non-quant jobs in Investment banking, Corporate finance, etc. Some also go into consulting. I know a student taking a job in risk management who commenced the OR program last year. There is a lot of diversity in placements here which works well for a fresh, inexperienced graduate like me. Although what financeguy said about jobs being mainly in the financial firms is very true.

I had also posted earlier a list of FE courses in the OR program that you can take which you can find on this thread. May be some past FE students can have a look at it and comment whether those courses together can reasonably substitute an FE degree.

So for quant finance is this program OR good enough? I honestly can't say, but personally feel that since you can't really get a quant job from the tons of these latest low ranked FE programs, the columbia OR works out much better. Again you all can have a look at the course desciptions I have posted and comment.

Off the point, have you heard of 23 year old no experience non phD FE graduates getting quant trading jobs?

@ financeguy - I wanted to know who exactly you were. May be I've met you here-i'll send you a message.
 

alain

Older and Wiser
Speaking to the students here, I feel that a lot of them are planning to take business school courses as much as possible, which are not really quantitative
which mean they can only take 2. From the previous post, you can only take 1 course per semester and since the program is 2 semesters, it means only 2 courses.

Off the point, have you heard of 23 year old no experience non phD FE graduates getting quant trading jobs
Not 23, I have heard/met 22 year olds in Assistant Trading positions. Trading jobs have to do a lot with luck as much as with knowledge.
 

Prateek Bhatia

New Member
which mean they can only take 2. From the previous post, you can only take 1 course per semester and since the program is 2 semesters, it means only 2 courses.
Actually 3 if you do the degree in 3 semesters. What I meant was that with the option to take courses in Stats, Economics, etc. you can basically study all finance apart from the core courses. But that won't be quantitative finance, would it?

That 22 year old you are talking about is in quant trading?
 

financeguy

Active Member
Your appraisal of the OR program is a very limited endorsement, at least as far as MFE goes. That is, MFE students get picked first by the school and by the employers. As a result, you have to go the extra mile just to be on level ground by beefing up your resume. Furthermore, the school appears to even be trying to push OR students out of MFE courses with demanding prerequisites!

So for someone looking to get into quant finance, is the OR program a good choice? Put another way, if you can get into the MFE program, is there any reason to go to the OR program? (provided you want to go into quant finance.)
Actually, I am very happy to be in the MSOR - I would not call it a limited endorsement at all. Getting those transfer credits should not be too much of an issue. After all, we're only talking about probability, statistics, stochastic processes, and a little bit of finance. If you have a linear programming background, there's another core course down. This should not be difficult to complete during undergrad, especially for people who plan to attend a top tier graduate school. And MSFE students still have to fulfill these prerequisites - they just get a head start in the summer to get some out of the way and an extra summer at the end to finish up some more advanced courses. If you were really desperate to get the same head start and you have not gotten it done during undergrad, you could theoretically just take the courses anywhere else over the summer and transfer them over. These are standard courses you can find anywhere. I went to undergrad in a place where you always had to work against the current of the administration to get where you wanted, so I guess I'm personally not fazed by the school seemingly squeezing OR students out of FE courses. If anything, I look at this as more of an opportunity to differentiate myself from the OR pack.

From my limited experience in the industry and from what I have been told, you have to be going the extra mile at all stages of your career, so asking for a little more of a push during your masters degree doesn't seem too much to ask, right?

Finally, you ask if it would ever make sense to choose the MSOR program over the MSFE program if you want to be in quant finance. The answer is quite simply, yes. Here is a list of reasons why you might want to choose MSOR over MSFE.

1) MSOR is less expensive - I know this is less important because both programs are pricey and people going into this industry tend to not be so concerned over this.
2) MSFE is longer and requires study over the summer, which could be replaced with an internship - possibly one that makes a full-time offer pending completion of the MS. At the end of it all, the MSFE is only 2 courses more than the MSOR and assuming you come in with the prerequisites I described above, you can get the same education. Forget this nonsense of FE only courses - there is only a very small handful of FE only courses that don't have an equivalent that OR students can take or that OR students can't get into at the end of the day anyway.
3) MSOR is flexible, MSFE is not. MSFE is a stamp on your resume to employers that says "I have been taught a prescribed financial engineering course load". You can equivalently obtain this stamp by taking the same or similar courses and listing those on your resume along with a high GPA. This would eliminate the stigma of being a wannabe FE student in the OR program; employers won't care whether or not you got into the FE program if you took the same courses and did just as well or better than FE students. Basically pay less, spend less time in school, and study harder - and you get a great bargain. 4) Again, MSOR is flexible, MSFE is not. You might not want to be just a quant jock - maybe you want a theoretical background to go into consulting or a corporate finance background to go into investment banking - this is easier to do in the MSOR; there are also less commonplace jobs that require a true mix of highly quantitative and qualitative skills. This mix of qualities is something you have the choice to truly develop in the MSOR program that you do not in MSFE. Also, you might want the opportunity to make the decision as to whether you'd like to be trained just for quant once you're in the program. You might not enjoy what you're doing first term - MSOR gives you the opportunity to get your Columbia MS degree while exploring other fields. MSOR gives you the opportunity to take a wide selection of courses from a variety of disciplines to prepare you for an equally wide array of careers. You might be sure you want quant finance now, but who knows how you'll feel next year.
 

Prateek Bhatia

New Member
......... This mix of qualities is something you have the choice to truly develop in the MSOR program that you do not in MSFE. Also, you might want the opportunity to make the decision as to whether you'd like to be trained just for quant once you're in the program. You might not enjoy what you're doing first term - MSOR gives you the opportunity to get your Columbia MS degree while exploring other fields. MSOR gives you the opportunity to take a wide selection of courses from a variety of disciplines to prepare you for an equally wide array of careers. You might be sure you want quant finance now, but who knows how you'll feel next year......
Completely agree with you. As I said before, if you aren't really sure that you want to do in quantitative finance, you are one of those people (including me) who just says that they want to work as a quant analyst in a hedge fund/Investment bank and don't know the details that quant finance entails, then MSOR is a good option.

A few things about MSOR that I think are worth mentioning. The class size is pretty big. So if you don't have prior work ex you'll be competing not only with fellow classmates, but also with undergrads for entry level jobs. Also, as expected, most of the people I've spoken to here want to study finance, but many amongst them want to study the more traditional corporate finance with a B-school approach.
 

doug reich

Some guy
don't know the details that quant finance entails
My mistake: I had assumed that if you are going to grad school you know exactly why. In that case, wouldn't you save yourself a lot of time, money and effort by doing some informational interviews with quants? Some of them, either people you cold call, friends, acquaintances, or alumni of your college, will be willing to give you a better idea of what they do.

Again, I am assuming here that you are going to grad school (a master's, anyway) for vocational purposes; if you just like a subject and you'll do whatever with it, that is outside my model. (That raises different questions, but it's also OT.)
 

financeguy

Active Member
If you at this point in time know for sure that you want to be a quant, then only 3 out of the 4 of my arguments are still valid. Less expensive, more opportunity for summer internships (which could mean better chance for a job post grad), and you might want to switch gears while you're in the program. Just because you want it for sure now doesn't mean that 5 courses deep you might realize you'd like some variety in your coursework or that you don't want to be a straight up quant after all. The administrative head today mentioned to us that 5 out of the 65 MSFE students were going to have to leave the program due to poor performance, and that on top of that there exist students that end up simply not enjoying the material even though they were sure they would - they either stick it out and get a job in another industry or leave the program altogether. This problem could be entirely avoided by a student in the MSOR.

If there is no chance whatsoever that anything would ever stop you from dreaming of becoming a quant, you are not concerned about cost enough to worry about the extra $7000 of tuition, you are not worried about missing out on a summer internship (maybe you already had one or two summer positions and/or some years of work experience), and finally you don't mind taking a prescribed set of courses with little to no room to explore any other (even related) areas, then MSFE is a better degree program for you. At the end of the day it is more prestigious for acquiring quant jobs, and I don't think anyone will fight you on that. But be careful, Doug, all the asking around in the world will not provide you with 100% certainty that you want to be a quant for a living.

I have worked in quant for a little bit, and the truth is I don't intrinsically enjoy it all that much. I do, however, appreciate the degree I am pursuing because it gives me superior insight into markets, it allows me to learn only what I want to learn and not just what I think would make me super attractive to employers (I mean, I'm paying for it, not them), and if I ever wanted to be able to work with a quant model I will be able to. Truth be told, you will not use everything you learn in a MSFE degree on the job anyway, no matter how relevant it seems.

I would prefer to learn only about what interests me intrinsically and pursue exactly that, because at the end of the day don't we all just want to be happy? Landing a dream job can turn very quickly into a nightmare if all you were doing it for was perceived prestige. Most MSFE students from what I can see don't exactly know what FE entails (most are not coming from a finance background) and so the program is structured to cover as many FE topics as possible. I like the MSOR because I can use the first semester to make sure I know what I want to focus on, and then load up on it in the second. Just because you're in a masters program doesn't mean you know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life. I'm young so I'm studying exactly the courses that I want, not what I at the wise age of my mid 20s think would be expected of me, and I believe that I'll be better off for it. Being in OR with an FE spin does provide vocational training along the way - just enough to do exactly what I want, not so much that I will be learning things I will never use again (because, to use your words, it would be a waste of a lot of time and money to learn things in a graduate program that I don't enjoy and so will not do as a vocation). Of course, you might not think any of this applies to you, and it really might not, but I do suggest you really think about it in case you are doing it for others and not for yourself - this is a sure way to end up disappointed. Again, simply talking to quants and thinking "oh this sounds cool" doesn't quite cut it for certainty when you're considering paying for very specific training in the field with no option of expansion. But, as I said earlier, if FE is the only thing you ever want to do, the MSFE is of course the better program.
 

Prateek Bhatia

New Member
My mistake: I had assumed that if you are going to grad school you know exactly why. In that case, wouldn't you save yourself a lot of time, money and effort by doing some informational interviews with quants? Some of them, either people you cold call, friends, acquaintances, or alumni of your college, will be willing to give you a better idea of what they do.

Again, I am assuming here that you are going to grad school (a master's, anyway) for vocational purposes; if you just like a subject and you'll do whatever with it, that is outside my model. (That raises different questions, but it's also OT.)
The reason I'm going to grad school is because I want to expand the opportunities available to me. I did a computer engineering bachelor's degree wherein only 20-25 % of the actual syllabus was what I wanted to study and I was very dissatisfied with it.( In India, most of the undergrad programs are preset - you have to do some pre decided courses to complete a degree- hardly any choice involved. The sort of American university culture where you can be a programmer but at the same time study english literature or economics or something is absent). The only job that was available to me was junior software engineer in IT firms where I'll be trained on the Java or .net platform for a few months and become a programmer. I wanted to study more applied mathematics with a programming emphasis before beginning work. I'm thinking of my masters more as a continuation of my undergrad study-kind of like a second major.

I don't need to explain my rationale to anyone, but I'm doing this because I want you to know that THERE ARE MANY, MANY in the same boat as me. Thousands of students come to america for grad school right after their masters. If you have a look at the lower tier FE programs, you'll find hoardes of graduates coming in to study quant finance without any work ex. Many of them, as financeguy said are doing the degree for the perceived prestige and the perception of making gazillions. I personally know some of them. How many of them know about quant finance to be sure that they want to do this for their life - none in my opinion. I doubt anyone at the age of 22, right after their graduation, can confidently say that they want to code quantitative models or do statistical arbitrage or algorithmic trading for their life. There may be exceptions and may be they are the one-two people who get into top teir MFE courses without prior work ex. I would be very interested in knowing how many 22 year old-no work ex-right after undergrad students have been admitted in the top FE programs at CMU, Berkley, Columbia, U chicago,etc. ( Baruch incoming students I can find on quantnet)

What you are talking about masters being a vocational thing is very true, but mainly for those doing their undergrads in america. Again how many american college students go for their masters right after graduation - mainly those involved in pure sciences who would later pursue phD's. This does not apply to many, if not most, of the foreign students, especially those from India and China. For foreign students coming to an alien country there are other reasons like moving to a place with a better lifestyle, wanting to explore a different way of living, gaining more exposure to varied opportunites, or may be just finding oneself.
 

doug reich

Some guy
What you are talking about masters being a vocational thing is very true, but mainly for those doing their undergrads in america.
Thank you both for an enlightening discussion. After thinking over my position more, I realized I was looking at it only through my own eyes: American-born, raised, and educated. Someone coming from another country would not have the chance to evaluate their options as I had, and so they have to take this educational plunge just to get where I am by the luck of being born here.

Best of luck to both of you!

(Not meaning to drag the point out further, I didn't mean to imply that a master's is for your lifetime work. What I've been seeing and hearing, actually, is that the life expectancy of a finance career is not particularly long, so you'll end up doing something else after 5, 10 or 15 years, depending on luck and skill.)
 

financeguy

Active Member
I'm American, too, but I still value the flexibility in the program. To each his own I suppose.

Just to follow up on what Prateek was saying, which I've said before but I really didn't know before I started here (and which I'm not sure others know either) is that there are no Americans. I have only met one other in the program. Literally, 1 other out of 90. Weird at first, but it's kind of cool. They ask you where you're from, you say "New York", and they all gaze at you in awe. So to all the other Americans out there, can we please take a few math courses and give the foreigners a run for their money?
 

doug reich

Some guy
I suppose I didn't like being in school that much, so seeking another degree without a firm understanding of where I was going with it was very undesirable to me.

FWIW, the Baruch program has significantly more American students; it's probably a function of visibility and brand recognition overseas. (I am certain this has been discussed ad nausam before).
 
Adding a few observations to Doug's point:
1. Baruch's class has mostly students that have worked in U.S.
2. Most of the students are over 26, very few are coming to this proffessional program immediately after undergrad studies.
3. All students had multiple chats with alumni, proffesors etc so they have a pretty good idea about the program.
4. Program is pretty intense as full-time so in a few months a student will see if it is really worth it for him/her. It is not a tragedy if they give up and choose some other direction.
5. After 1st year, you have a good chance for internship so you will see get a feeling about different quantitative jobs.

Overall, after 1 year, I think 99% of students can say for sure if they want to work in this field for several years at least. I cannot say this about many other proffessional or academic programs ...
 

Andy Nguyen

Member
FWIW, the Baruch program has significantly more American students
I wanted to check the validity of this claim so I glance over this thread
Entering class of 2008 - QuantNetwork - Financial Engineering Forum

I may not know the background of everyone there but it seems up to 1/3 of the coming class are either American born, or Americanized. In another word, the students who came to Baruch directly from oversea is an increasing small number compared to a few years ago.

I also notice that Baruch program has a large number of students who went to school in the US, work or live in New York city for many years so they are basically the locals.
It's interesting to hear that the MSOR has few American. I wonder if the poster meant to categorize American as US-born Caucasians.
 

financeguy

Active Member
No, when I said American I was talking about U.S. born of any ethnicity. We were told that the undergraduate OR students were mostly American, though.
 

php

New Member
Hi Guys,

Even I have joined Columbia for the MS OR program.

Hats off to financeguy and prateek bhatia for the way they put their thoughts into words. Having joined Columbia for the same program, I agree with most of the points put forward by them.

My advice to any prospective applicants would be to be ready for the heavy competetion once you join the program. As of now, in the core courses, there are 100+ students in the class.

And I was surprised (just like the financeguy) to see the number of Americans in the class (definitely less than 10 in a class of 150+ which includes OR, IE and EMS). Also, you will get to hear a lot of Chinese (from the ppl sitting around you). You have option to learn Chinese to enhance your skill set.

I am one of the guys, who was recommended MS OR when I had applied for MSFE. I think they did a good by doing that.

I would say this is a good program for people like me (don't have work experience and coming from India, we don't have the flexibility to choose courses during our undergrad). In the first semester, this program will give you an introduction to all the possible avenues you can explore in the financial services industry. And in the second semester, you can choose the courses you are particularly interested in.

Most people who are here with a finance background, plan to finish their course in 1 year itself. So you have the flexibilty to finish your course as you wish (you can do an internship if you are planning to do it in 1 and a half yr, this option is not avalable for the MSFE students here)


I have been following the posts in quantnet for quite some time now. And I need to mention that, before joining Columbia, I was scared with the descriptions (by some people in this forum) about MS OR program from Columbia. But after joining, I am assured that it is not at all a bad program to be in.

php

PS: @ financeguy- I look forward to meet you in the class. And I think I know you.
 
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